Category Archives: Reviews

Forever Ends on Friday

What if you could bring your best friend back to life – but only for a short time?

Jamal’s best friend, Q, doesn’t know that he died, and that he’s about to die . . . again. He doesn’t know that Jamal tried to save him. And that the reason they haven’t been friends for two years is because Jamal blames Q for the accident that killed his parents.

But what if Jamal could have a second chance? A new technology allows Q to be reanimated for a few weeks before he dies . . . permanently. And Q’s mom is not about to let anyone ruin this miracle by telling Q about his impending death. So how can Jamal fix everything if he can’t tell Q the truth?

Forever Ends on Friday weaves together loss, grief, friendship, and love to form a wholly unique homage to the bonds that bring people together for life – and beyond.

Macmillan Kids

Published in the US as EARLY DEPARTURES, FOREVER ENDS ON FRIDAY is the second YA novel by Justin A. Reynolds. I interviewed him around the publication date of OPPOSITE OF ALWAYS and his answers were great, do have a look (and read that book if you haven’t yet)! The synopsis for FOREVER actually really reminded me of OPPOSITE, with the idea of doing things right the second time around, so I was a little worried that it might feel samey…thank goodness I was wrong! Although the idea of second chances is important in both books, it was a refreshingly different read. Family, again, is huge in the story, it is about the importance of family and relationships of all sorts. I loved the humour, brightening even the darkest moments but without spoiling them, and the warmth in the relationships. Jamal’s voice is just great. The premise is so interesting and plays out believably, leaving the reader with lots to ponder over: Do you think it is a good idea to have a second chance to say goodbye?

My last interview with Justin was one of my favourite for the blog, so when Amber at Macmillan asked if I’d like to be part of the blog tour for this second book I took the opportunity to ask just a few more questions…

What is it about the idea of second chances that sparks your imagination?

Great question! I think it probably has to do with my overanalyzing brain, ha. I tend to replay moments and episodes in a loop, turning over a situation on all sides, trying to grasp either what went right or wrong, what I could’ve done better or just differently. The idea of having the time and space to fix the things we stubbornly broke out of frustration, anxiety, or hurt feelings I think will forever remain intriguing to me. We’re so tragically flawed as people, all of us—and yet, most of us believe in redemption, myself included; and I believe it’s love that makes such healing possible.

Love, in its most honest form, is such a powerful experience; it’s like we’re being remade from the inside out—like remodeling for the soul. You are forever changed. And once you’ve had it, it’s crushing to be without it. For me, the reason we’re here on this planet is to form meaningful, interpersonal relationships, which only happens when we reciprocate vulnerability—but with such openness, we expose ourselves to pain, betrayal, and apathy. It’s not a question of if we’ll be hurt, but when, even at the hands of those who truly love us. I suppose all of my stories stem from this: I so desperately want to believe in humanity; I need to believe that, given the opportunity, we’ll do what’s right by each other. But I also appreciate that sometimes that requires a second chance.

I love the banter between the friends. Do you listen to a lot of teenagers chatting in real life for inspiration?

Thank you. I’m so happy you enjoy it because dialogue is probably the thing I enjoy most about writing—or maybe it’s the thing that I’ve always had the easiest time with, ha. I’m lucky that I get to visit schools all over the country and meet and listen to lots of young people talking about their experiences, the things that matter to them. I think listening is the most important part of writing, other than being a good reader. There’s a rhythm to language, to our conversations, whether those be internal or with our family and friends—and for me there are few greater writerly feelings than when you successfully tap into that sound. Another kinda weird thing I do is I watch movies and television with the subtitles (captions) on—which I know drives some people crazy, haha. But there’s something about seeing the words as they’re being spoken that I find both beautiful and instructive. The fact that there are so many ways to say the same thing to someone else, I love that.

Have you had much opportunity to engage with readers in these…interesting times?

I’m fortunate in that I’ve gotten to do quite a few virtual events, including book festivals and conferences and interviews. I’ve also done several virtual school visits, which are always fun. We also had our second annual Cleveland Reads (#CLEReads) Book Festival this year, also via a virtual platform, and that was such a thrilling experience, connecting with awesome readers, young and old, all over the world.

I will always ask: what are you reading at the moment and who would you recommend it to?

I always love this question because I love talking about other people’s books! So Bryan Washington’s MEMORIAL is amazing; any story highlighting “found family” is already going to be high on my list but then Bryan’s inventive language and his unique POV is absolutely electric. I should mention I believe this is formally categorized as an adult title.

Also, I’m reading and loving Danielle Evans’s new short story collection, THE OFFICE OF HISTORICAL CORRECTIONS. I don’t know if there’s a short story writer I enjoy and admire more; what she manages to convey in such small spaces detonates fireworks in my brain. Every Evans story makes me green with envy; she’s a master.

I also want to say thank you so much for having me; it’s always such a pleasure talking with you!

Thank you so much for your wonderful answers, it is my pleasure to read your books and have a chance to ask a few nosy questions!

Huge thanks to Macmillan Kids for sending me a review copy and inviting me to be part of the blog tour for another awesome Justin A. Reynolds!

The book is out now!

The Humiliations of Welton Blake

Welton Blake has done it – he’s asked out Carmella McKenzie, the best-looking girl in school, and she’s only gone and said yes!

But just as he thinks his luck, and life, is starting to change, Welton’s phone breaks, kickstarting a series of unfortunate and humiliating events. With bullies to avoid, girls ready to knock him out and all the drama with his mum and dad, life for Welton is about to go very, very wrong …

Barrington Stoke
The Humiliations of Welton Blake – Cover artwork by Ali Ardington

I really enjoyed this new Barrington Stoke novella by Alex Wheatle. For those of you who don’t know, they publish books with dyslexic readers in mind – short, engaging, and set out carefully to be as readable as possible – written by loads of the best authors of the moment. Alex already had one under his belt, Kerb Stain Boys, a YA story set on his Crongton Estate, but this is for a younger teen audience. Those just starting to think about asking a girl to go to the cinema with them, or worrying about having the latest phone and trainers. Welton, our protagonist, is a great voice, he’d be one of the students that is always in trouble at school but secretly a teacher’s favourite. I asked Alex Wheatle some questions before publication:

How different is the process, writing a book for Barrington Stoke versus a longer novel?

The writing process for a shorter novel remains the same but before I write the first paragraph, I spend more time in my head on the plot and in the writing I try to be more concise.

After writing for adults then young adults and older teens, this is your youngest protagonist. Did that change your approach?

Writing about a young protagonist didn’t really change my approach.  I still invested the same care and attention as I would do for any other character I have created.

What is special about Crongton Estate?

The North Crongton and South Crongton estates are really references to the many council estates I have visited throughout the UK and beyond. What’s special about Crongton is that it is a fictional place. I’m not tied to Brixton, South London or anywhere else so I can freely create my characters and geography how I see fit. I can also populate Crongton the way I want to.

Cane Warriors (which is spectacular btw) is very different to anything else you’ve published for children and teens, what prompted you to write it, and might you write something from that era for Barrington Stoke?

Cane Warriors was a labour of love. Since I read CLR James’ Black Jacobins in the early 1980s, I’ve always wanted to write Jamaican historical narratives. My mother, who grew up very close to the plantation sites where the 1760 slave revolt occurred, heard her elders occasionally mention Tacky’s War. I felt as I was really documenting my ancestors’ history.

Have you done many virtual events? How does it compare to in-person?

I always prefer to do in-person events and I struggled a bit at first to do virtual events. Hopefully, I’m improving but I yearn to get in front of audiences again and do my thing!

What are you reading and who would you recommend it to?

At the moment, I am enjoying A.M Dassu’s Boy, Everywhere and I recommend it to anyone at any age.

What was the most exciting thing for you to come out of 2020?

The most exciting thing for me to come out in 2020 was the Black Lives Matter marches around the world and the different shades who all walked together.

What’s next?

I really enjoyed myself writing my The Humiliations of Welton Blake, so I hope I can produce more of the same for middle-grade readers.

You can read the first chapter on the Barrington Stoke website, and if you want more: the book is out now!

Huge thanks to Barrington Stoke for a proof copy to review, and to Alex Wheatle for answering my questions.

The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires

Patricia is a Charleston housewife whose husband Carter spends more time traveling for work than he does at home. Her two teenage kids don’t appreciate her, and much of her time is spent caring for her senile mother-in-law. The only thing giving her life is her book club. So what if their typical picks, like Cry, the Beloved Country are less her speed than the true crime titles they actually discuss? One night after book club, an elderly neighbor attacks Patricia, which brings the woman’s handsome nephew into Patricia’s life, and just like that, her life takes a turn for the more interesting. James is smart, well-read, well-traveled, and attentive. But as time goes on, Patricia realizes that she is not the only one James is interested in; that she, her family, and even her beloved book club are being groomed by a man who may be a monster. 

Grady Hendrix is one of the greatest living writers of Horror!

This was a theory I had long held that was confirmed when I read The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires. He is also one of the few authors for whom I will drop everything else I am reading when a new work by him is published.

It took me ages to figure out why this book is so terrifyingly good, it is because it could take place next door to me or in the homes of my friends. Look mothers generally get a bad rap in horror (and to be honest many other genres as well), this book goes a long way to show the sacrifice, strength and love that mothers have for their children, friends and families that is so often overlooked or looked down upon. Grady also skewers the 1980’s yuppie mantra of greed is good as well as deflating toxic masculinity for good measure. Honestly it is not a stretch to believe that a soulless, blood-sucker could morph into something even worse.

Along the way he also makes the reader look long and hard at the racism and segregation that has suffused many communities in the US (and still does to this day) but was never discussed in polite society.

Patricia is not a hero, she is just a mother, as are her friends in the book club. They are nice ladies, who welcome new folk in to the neighborhood and make them feel at home; but when something starts threatening their children they know they have to do something – what they don’t rightly know, but they will find out, they have to!

The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires is written by Grady Hendrix and was published by Quirk Books back in April, this review is very late!

Check out The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires gift box – out just in time for Christmas, Kwanzaa, Yule and many other December celebrations:

https://quirkbooks.biz/product/the-southern-book-clubs-guide-to-slaying-vampires-box/?v=757e5b5109ed

A Thousand Questions blog tour

Set against the backdrop of Karachi, Pakistan, Saadia Faruqi’s tender and honest middle grade novel tells the story of two girls navigating a summer of change and family upheaval with kind hearts, big dreams, and all the right questions.

Mimi is not thrilled to be spending her summer in Karachi, Pakistan, with grandparents she’s never met. Secretly, she wishes to find her long-absent father, and plans to write to him in her beautiful new journal.

The cook’s daughter, Sakina, still hasn’t told her parents that she’ll be accepted to school only if she can improve her English test score—but then, how could her family possibly afford to lose the money she earns working with her Abba in a rich family’s kitchen?

Although the girls seem totally incompatible at first, as the summer goes on, Sakina and Mimi realize that they have plenty in common—and that they each need the other to get what they want most.

This relatable and empathetic story about two friends coming to understand each other will resonate with readers who loved Other Words for Home and Front Desk.

HarperCollins

A THOUSAND QUESTIONS is a brilliant new middle grade novel by Saadia Faruqi. I really enjoyed reading from the two perspectives, as they realise that the differences in their upbringings don’t change the things that are really important. Saadia’s love of Karachi shines through in her portrayal of the city and its landmarks, at the same time though, she doesn’t shy away from showing the disparities between rich and poor and it could lead to some really interesting conversations if you’re reading it as a class novel or with a reading group (or with your own child).

For the blog tour I was pleased to have the opportunity to ask Saadia a few questions!

I believe your writing began in a local newspaper, followed by the Yasmin books for beginning readers, and now longer middle grade like your new book A THOUSAND QUESTIONS. Which audience do you prefer writing for?

Wow those newspaper columns were such a long time ago, I hardly remember them! Yes, that’s right, and I also wrote a nonfiction academic-style book, plus a short story collection for adults. However, it was only when I started writing for children that I found my true passion. Children’s
books are so fun to write, and even when the message is serious, the act of writing them isn’t. I enjoy crafting stories that give hope and entertain my readers, showing them the world in a way that’s authentic but also full of positive aspects. Whether I’m writing early readers like Yasmin or middle grade novels like A Thousand Questions, I approach them the same way. I’d be hard- pressed to chose which I enjoy more.

Why do you think it is so important to have Muslim characters starring in children’s stories?

It’s very important to have stories that center Muslim characters, families and countries. The fact is that a growing number of our young readers are Muslim, and they deserve to see their stories reflected in the books they read. This means positive stories, ones that show realistic people and situations rather than caricatures and stereotypes. It also means everyday stories about experiences all children face at school, at home and in their neighborhoods. Finally, it means making Muslim children the heroes of our fantasy, sci-fi and mystery books, the ones who solve the crime or save the day. All this is important because storytelling is part of community, and
readers from Muslim backgrounds should know that they’re an essential part of our communities. Readers from other backgrounds should also realize that their friends and neighbors, their classmates in school, can be the heroes of the books they read.

Your author note says you were inspired by your children’s reactions to visiting Karachi, where you grew up. What do you think is the biggest difference between your childhood and theirs (aside from technology!)?

It’s a world of a difference, specifically for immigrant families like mine. I grew up in Pakistan with one type of culture, traditions, lifestyle, and everything else. My children are growing up in the U.S. with another type of culture. As a parent, I try very hard to keep Muslim and South Asian traditions alive in my house, but when they step outside it’s a very different world for my children. I believe that the physical differences aren’t as vast, but the emotional and mental differences are huge. My children feel “other” in a way that I never did. They feel the stress of living in a country that’s their own, but not their parents’. They experience life with each of their
feet on a different continent. I can’t even imagine what they go through every day, not completely fitting in because of their skin color or their background. I never had anyone ask me “where are you from?” growing up, and that’s probably the biggest, most insurmountable difference.

In A THOUSAND QUESTIONS, Mimi and Sakina do a lot of sightseeing. Which of the spots that the girls visit is your favourite?

Hmmm that’s an interesting question because I put all my favorite spots in the book! I really wanted to showcase all the best places to visit in Karachi, so that even if you never travel there physically you can understand what a beautiful, complicated, incredible place it is! If I had to choose a favourite, I’d say the beach. I’ve loved the ocean since I was a child, and still do. Clifton Beach, where Mimi and Sakina visit in the book, is also very fun because of the swarm of people, the camels, the food, and everything else.

The divide between wealthy and poor is highlighted brilliantly by the girls’ friendship. How hard was it to strike a balance between harsh reality and a fun story?

I love writing about juxtapositions. It’s what I do best, bringing to life characters who are diametrically opposed to each other, so my readers can understand that we can find something in common with everyone we meet, even if they’re very different. Imagine how peaceful the world would be if we all found something in common with each other and focused on that
commonality? In the book, Mimi seems well off, and Sakina seems poor. But when they get to know each other, they realize that they are both rich in some ways, and poor in others. Life in Pakistan (and other poor nations) is often reduced to poverty, like it’s something horrible and insurmountable. It was really important for me to change that narrative and write about complex, beautiful life for all people, including those that are poor. It wasn’t hard to do once I had those goals in mind.

Have you done virtual events with children about your books?

Absolutely! I do a ton of virtual events with schools and libraries around the world. Since the pandemic started, I’ve actually increased this aspect of my author-life significantly, because it’s the only way I can reach my readers and give them an encouraging word. I schedule 3-5 virtual visits every day, and most of them are free of charge because of the budget difficulties everyone is going through at the moment. I love meeting readers, answering their questions and inspiring them to be writers. Anyone who wants to schedule a short virtual visit can visit my website and
contact me there.

What are you reading at the moment and who would you recommend it to?

I’ve been reading the Planet Omar series by Zanib Mian with my daughter and really enjoying it. I think it’s great for children in elementary school, but can also be used as a read aloud for younger children. However, I enjoyed it as an adult, so my recommendation would be for everyone to read this series!

What are you working on at the moment?

I have several books in the pipeline, some of which are still secret. Ah, the joys of publishing! Four new Yasmin books are releasing in 2021, as well as a couple of picture books and a new middle grade novel featuring a boy main character, white supremacists, and a twenty-year old journal. I’m really excited about all my upcoming projects, but more than that I’m excited about the future of children’s books with all the fantastic BAME authors putting out great books for young readers. I’m proud to be a part of this new wave of books!

Saadia Faruqi (photo credit: QZB Photography)

A THOUSAND QUESTIONS is out now!

Thank you to HarperCollins UK for sending me a review pdf and involving me in the blog tour, and thank you to Saadia for answering my questions so thoughtfully (and I love the Planet Omar series too)!

A Really Short History of Nearly Everything

Adapted from A Short History of Nearly Everything, this stunningly illustrated book from the extraordinary Bill Bryson takes us from the Big Bang to the dawn of science, and everything in between.

Perfect for ages 8 to 80.

Ever wondered how we got from nothing to something?
Or thought about how we can weigh the earth?
Or wanted to reach the edge of the universe?

Uncover the mysteries of time, space and life on earth in this extraordinary book – a journey from the centre of the planet to the dawn of the dinosaurs, and everything in between.

And discover our own incredible journey, from single cell to civilisation, including the brilliant (and sometimes very bizarre) scientists who helped us find out the how and why.

Penguin

A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson was published just as I was coming to the end of my Geological Sciences BSc and I *adored* it. So much so, I bought 3 copies to give to my best friends on the course. I’ve read a number of Bryson’s books for grown ups, he’s got this amazing skill to write on just about any subject and make it fascinating, funny, informative, and understandable without patronising readers. So I was really excited when I saw that he had rewritten this particular title for younger readers and begged Penguin for a copy. They very generously not only sent me a copy but also said I could host a competition for 3 TeenLibrarian readers to win a copy too*! Just comment with your email address if you would like to be in with a chance of winning one (comments will remain hidden).

I’m loving looking through this adaptation, it really does still contain nearly everything, this time brilliantly illustrated by Daniel Long, Dawn Cooper, Jesús Sotés, and Katie Ponder. The design of the book is really appealing and it is a wonderful introduction to just about every aspect of science and technology.

*UK only, I will contact winners on 1st December 2020

The Runaway TARDIS

Cue music:

The Doctor Who theme tune give me goosebumps every time I hear it! Segun Akinola‘s take on it is just perfect, he kept everything that was classic and cool about it and added a new twist that improved it immeasurably!

Unable to make friends at her new school, Lizzie packs a bag and runs away. After accidentally stowing away in the TARDIS, she meets the Doctor, a mysterious woman who claims to be a time-traveling space alien. When the TARDIS malfunctions, Lizzie and the Doctor are sent catapulting through time and space, visiting the pyramids, the dinosaurs, an alien planet, and more. Along the way, Lizzie learns that making new friends isn’t so hard after all . . . but will she ever be able to get back home?

Doctor Who The Runaway TARDIS is Quirk Books latest POP Classics adaptation and their first featuring the BBC’s Doctor as played by Jodie Whittaker.

It is no secret that I love Doctor Who, which is a bit weird as unlike many fans I did not grow up watching it from behind the sofa, I did not grow up watching it at all. I discovered the novelizations by Terrance Dicks at a second-hand booksale. These were my introduction to the universe of The Doctor and when the show regenerated in 2005 I was one of the many people rejoicing and have watched it ever since.

If I had to choose just one word to describe The Runaway TARDIS, that word would be:

Honestly it is! It is one of the best adaptations of the show that I have ever seen! They have taken everything that is good and wonderful from the show and turned it into a picture book that is perfect for everyone from hardcore Whovians to folk that may have never encountered the Doctor before they happily decided to pick up this book.

If you or someone you know has moved and is missing their friends or has a feeling a sense of loneliness and isolation (honestly in this time of Covid-19 I think that describes just about everyone) then this book is the perfect choice!

“Everyone gets lonely sometimes'” said the Doctor. “But I make new friends wherever I go, and I never forget the old ones.”

Kim Smith’s art style is perfect in capturing the sense of awe and wonder on the face of the Doctor’s latest companion as they shoot through time and space in an out-of-control TARDIS.

There are also loads of Easter eggs hidden in the book to keep people poring over the book for ages, honestly it is such a delightful read I think that everyone should buy a copy (or borrow it from their local library).

Doctor Who: the Runaway TARDIS is based on the Doctor Who series by Chris Chibnall; it is illustrated by Kim Smith and published by Quirk Books. It is available from all good bookshops and your local library now!

Competition time:

I also have a copy to give away, if you (yes you) would like to win yourself (or someone you love) a copy of The Runaway TARDIS then just comment on this post with your best (or worst) Doctor Who joke e.g.:

I was at a party full of World Heath Organization medics over the weekend.

I thought I was going to a Doctor Who convention.

If you don’t know a Doctor Who joke then any good joke will do!

(this competition is open internationally)

Thank You Joseph Coelho

Tatenda says thank you every day, wherever he can. Thank you to Mom and Dad for making breakfast, thank you to the post lady for delivering his favorite comic, thank you to his teacher for marking his work and thank you to the shop worker stacking shelves. But lately, it seems no one can hear his thank yous: their heads are too foggy with worry. So Tatenda decides to say his biggest “Thank you” ever. He stands on tiptoe, brings his arms down like a huge rainbow . . . and this time, his thank you helps the whole community feel better!

Frances Lincoln Books
Thank You, with words by Joseph Coelho and pictures by Sam Usher

THANK YOU is a beautiful book. Joseph was inspired by the Clap for Carers during lockdown and royalties from the book are being donated to Groundwork UK, a federation of charities nationwide “mobilising practical community action on poverty and the environment”. Sam Usher’s illustrations are full of movement and so joyful, really bringing the words to life.

I’ve long loved Joseph Coelho, as a performer and writer, and when Frances Lincoln offered the chance to interview him about THANK YOU I jumped at the chance, while cheekily asking him about other recent titles with other publishers as well – he really is unstoppable at the moment!

The last few years have seen you publish poetry collections, novels, and picture books (as well as plays) for all ages of children and young people! When you have an idea, do you immediately know what you want to do with it or does the form come as you start writing?
What a super question. I don’t know immediately it’s a bit of trial and error, I have found however that if a story is deep enough it can often work for several mediums. Such as my poem If All The World Were Paper which was first published in Werewolf Club Rules but became a starting point for my picture book with Allison Colpoys If All The World Were...

THANK YOU is full of movement. Did you have an idea of how it should be illustrated or did you hand the text to Sam Usher to run with?
All picture books are really a collaboration between writer, illustrator, designer and editor so it’s hugely important that there is space for everyone to express themselves through the book. I am now in the habit of not thinking too much about the visuals, I focus on making sure the text works by itself, that the story is clear with or without illustrations so that the illustrator has scope to really put their mark on the book.

THE GIRL WHO BECAME A TREE, Otter Barry Books, is strikingly illustrated by Kate Milner

What is it about Daphne’s story that inspired you to write THE GIRL WHO BECAME A TREE?
I’ve always been interested in physical transformations as metaphor for internal change. It’s poetry made manifest. So when I came across the greek myth of Daphne it felt like the ideal subject for a story I’d been working on about a girl dealing with the death of her father. As with all the myths there are so many layers and ways to interpret that it felt like  a gift to explore through poetry.

ZOMBIERELLA is deliciously different, first of a 3 part series, but are there other fairy tales you would like to retell?
There are!  Book 2 is based on Rumplestiltskin and is called Frankenstiltskin. I have many ideas in development for many of the other tales some of which get a mention by the Librarian at the start of Zombierella who has discovered a section of the library full of fairytales that have gone bad, so I have a library to fill!

ZOMBIERELLA, Walker Books, is brilliantly illustrated by Freya Hartas

What is your favourite kind of event to do with/for children? How have you found digital events?
I love doing festival events with large audiences, you get a real sense of togetherness and occasion. I thrive off of getting large audiences to interact with each other.  I love the joy that can be generated as students hear their peers from different schools coming up with poetic lines or add to a group poem with people they’ve only just met.
Making everything digital has been interesting, it’s definitely far more time consuming than expected with even a five minute video taking the best part of a day but it is wonderful that we have this technology available to get us through these difficult periods.

Librarians across the country are so grateful for your enormous support, what drives that passion?
Libraries have always featured heavily in my life, from living on estates where I had a library next door, to my first Saturday job, to working at the British library whilst studying at UCL, to touring theatre shows designed to be performed in libraries. I’m immensely grateful to libraries and the services they provide for turning me into a reader and by association a writer. I also sincerely believe that library provision it key to helping communities thrive so it really is an honour to be in a position where I can celebrate these wonderful spaces.

One of my favourite pages from THANK YOU

What are you reading at the moment and who would you recommend it to?
I’m a serial dipper and always have several books on the go at present I’m reading Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo, a book that everyone should read. I’m also reading an anthology of short stories on the theme of the sea published by the British Library called From The Depths and Other Strange Tales Of The Sea Edited by Mike Ashley – Recommended for anyone who likes a shot of creepy adventure. I’m also a big book listener and am currently listening to Children Of Time By Adrian Tchaikovsky for all sci-fi fans who aren’t scared of spiders!

What can we expect from you next?
I have a busy year ahead with book 2 of Fairytales Gone Bad and some more picture books coming out. I’m also working on a brand new middle grade adventure series which is yet to be read by anyone! Eeeek! But I love this period because at the moment it’s just me telling a story to myself or rather hearing characters tell me their story.

Joe Coelho Portraits Hay Festival 2018

Joseph Coelho is an award winning poet and performer from London, although he now lives by the sea. In 2019 he won the Independent Bookshop Week Picture Book Award for If All the World Were. He has been long-listed for The Carnegie Children’s Award with his poetry collection ‘Overheard In A Tower Block’, which was also shortlisted for the CLPE CLiPPA Poetry Award and Longlisted for the UKLA Book Awards. He won the 2015 CLPE CLiPPA Poetry Award with his debut poetry collection Werewolf Club Rules. His debut Picture Book, Luna Loves Library Day was voted one of the nations favourite picture books by a survey led by World Book Day. His other poetry books include How To Write Poems and A Year Of Nature Poems

Skunk and Badger

No one wants a skunk.
 
They are unwelcome on front stoops. They should not linger in Important Rock Rooms. Skunks should never, ever be allowed to move in. But Skunk is Badger’s new roommate, and there is nothing Badger can do about it.
 
When Skunk plows into Badger’s life, everything Badger knows is upended. Tails are flipped. The wrong animal is sprayed. And why-oh-why are there so many chickens?

Skunk and Badger is a wonderful take by two titans of the children’s book world: Amy Timberlake wielded the words and Jon Klassen created the illustrations. I will not lie, I am a fan of both, but Jon Klassen is one of my all-time top five artists and when I was offered a chance at an early copy I leapt at it!

I was not disappointed! This is a gentle, hilarious tale of a budding friendship, misadventure, chickens and underscored by the virtues of tolerance and understanding,

Skunk and Badger is timeless! Although aimed at a young audience this tale will find fans in readers of all ages.

Written by Amy Timberlake, illustrated by Jon Klassen and published by Algonquin Young Readers. It is out on September 15 – I urge you to pick up a copy (or borrow a copy from your local library and then pick up your own copy to keep, read and reread).

Moonchild: Voyage of the Lost and Found

Twelve year old Amira has only ever known a life at sea with her sea-witch mothers. So when their ship is wrecked in a great storm, Amira is delighted to have an opportunity to explore land – accompanied by her best friend Namur – a jinn in cat form. Amira soon finds a boy who has a jinn like her, and learns that their spirit companions are connected to the mysterious storm that gets stronger each day.

When Namur goes missing Amira discovers she has to visit a magical place; a place where lost things can be found. But will Amira also discover her own destiny, and find out what it truly means to be a Moonchild?

The Sahar Peninsula is a place that lies just beyond the horizon. If you’ve ever tried to reach the horizon, you’ll realize it isn’t the easiest to get to. No maps will take you there, nor can it be charted by gazing up at the stars, or down at a compass.

If you’re wondering who I am, and why I’m telling you this story, you’ll have to wait for quite some time to find out. It’s a secret, you understand. And I need to know that you’re the right person to keep it.

Are you?

I’m not so sure just yet.

Now that we’ve introduced ourselves, shall we begin?

MOONCHILD
MOONCHILD: VOYAGE OF THE LOST AND FOUND, illustration by Rachael Dean


Illustrated by Rachael Dean

MOONCHILD: VOYAGE OF THE LOST AND FOUND is Aisha Bushby’s second book, and I had high hopes after A POCKETFUL OF STARS was such a uniquely brilliant read (watch her read some of APOS here). It is completely different, but just as satisfying! It is about adventure and science and magic and family and relationships, with a narrator occasionally bringing you out of the action to remind you that every adventure is a story, but that ‘stories never start at the beginning and they never ever finish at the end’. And, my new favourite piece of advice, from Jamila (one of Amira’s mothers), is:

All great adventures begin with a nap.

Amira is well cared for, by her two mothers, who encourage her magic (she can smell emotions) but know that it wouldn’t be looked upon kindly by others. As they spend most of their time at sea it isn’t a problem and Amira is very sheltered, but on visiting a souk while they’re docked for repairs after a storm, she starts to uncover some secrets and mysteries related to where she came from…she also makes a friend, and the developing relationship really builds the characters. The occasional gorgeous black and white illustration (and two stunning double page spreads) highlights the personality of the characters and builds up the tension in the nerve-wracking parts (there are some *very* nerve-wracking parts). The young friends problem solve together and I’m so excited that there are more adventures to come.

After having interviewed Aisha around the launch of her debut, I jumped at the chance to read this new novel and ask her another round of questions!

Before writing these questions I read a Netgalley eProof rather than a physical copy. I prefer to read hardcopy because, unless I really concentrate, I accidentally skim read a screen & miss things! Which prompts me to ask whether you have a format preference when you’re reading?

Both! I like to read on a screen before bed (so I can lie down and have the light off), and a book during the day.

A POCKETFUL OF STARS was a fantasy grounded in reality, whereas this is a completely new world. Did you find that gave you more freedom to tell the story or did it make it trickier to structure it?

A bit of both! On the one hand, in MOONCHILD I was able to bend/rewrite my own rules to solve plot holes, which I couldn’t do so much with STARS. On the other hand, I had to spend a lot more time creating a world (including the rules I had planned to bend) from scratch. But I really enjoyed the challenge!

I love the mix of science & magic, was Leo a scientist as soon as he came to you or did it evolve as you thought about the rules of magic?

My stories change dramatically from draft to draft, so it’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment I made that choice. but I knew I wanted science to frame my magical rules, to keep them in check.

The Stormbird and its influence is based on the second law of ecology: everything must go somewhere. Once I figured this out, it helped the rest of the plot unfold, and inspired a few other details.

Leo was the natural choice for the role of scientist in the group, because Amira’s skills lie in seafaring, and I needed him to bring something to the table, too. I also see the certainty of science as a comfort to him, given his background.

Last time I interviewed you I asked about your planned school visits. Did talking to school children about A POCKETFUL OF STARS alter your approach to your second novel?

I was really nervous when A POCKETFUL OF STARS was released. It’s not exactly a light-hearted read, but speaking to children, and seeing how they related to the book and how deeply they think about things was inspiring.

It gave me the confidence to write about subjects like emotions and mental health for that audience, (albeit from a more adventure-driven perspective) knowing that they’re receptive to it.

Have you done any remote events in recent months or are you crossing your fingers for in-person events again ASAP?

I’ve done a few, and I really enjoy them! As much as I miss in-person events, I don’t plan on attending them unless I know it’s going to be completely safe. But I think we have the opportunity to explore more remote options that provide a greater level of accessibility for everyone involved.

I will always ask: What are you reading at the moment and who would you recommend it to?

I am very lucky to be reading My Life As A Cat by Carlie Sorosiak, which I would recommend to everyone, but especially people who (like me) love cats. Her writing is sublime.

I didn’t know there was more to come, was that your intention when you started to write or did you realise that your characters had more stories to tell as you were writing?

Because the structure is loosely inspired by The Arabian Nights, with short stories and a narrator, it allowed me to explore each character and their desires fully.

I wrote the first book with the intention that it could work as a standalone, but I also imagined other books told from different character perspectives.

Do you know how long a series it will be? Is it taking up all your writing time or have you got other projects you’re thinking about too?

I’m currently editing the second MOONCHILD book… And that’s all I’ll say for now. 😀

I’m always thinking of other projects, but it’s good to have a few sit there and see which end up sticking. That’s actually how MOONCHILD came about – it was a book I wasn’t supposed to write, but one that wouldn’t go away.

Aisha Bushby, the author of MOONCHILD: VOYAGE OF THE LOST AND FOUND

Thank you to Egmont for inviting me to be part of the tour, and to Aisha for answering my questions. This first books is on sale from 6th August 2020, and I’m really looking forward to reading their further adventures soon!

Cinderella is Dead

It’s 200 years since Cinderella found her prince … but the fairytale is over.
Sophia knows the story though, off by heart. Because every girl has to recite it daily, from when she’s tiny until the night she’s sent to the royal ball for choosing. And every girl knows that she has only one chance. For the lives of those not chosen by a man at the ball … are forfeit.
But Sophia doesn’t want to be chosen. She doesn’t want to go to the ball at all. Not when she’s afraid the girl she loves might be chosen too.
Pushed beyond breaking by a society that denies everything she is, Sophia sets out on a journey that will remake her world … into one where SHE gets to choose.

Bloomsbury
cover art by Fernanda Suarez

A thrilling and original twist on the Cinderella story – breaking stereotypes of race, gender and sexuality to create a brand-new YA fairytale and a heroine for our times

The friendships and relationships (both family and romantic) are flawed and interesting, with queer romances and an entirely Black cast. I thought the way that Sophia and Erin each approach their illegal love for one another rang true, with Erin becoming distant and mean to avoid feeling anything that made life difficult, even if it meant an unhappy life, while Sophia simply couldn’t bear that outcome. This society is built around the fairy tale “Happy Ending”, but how much does the version that Sophia and her friends know differ from the actual history of Cinderella and her Prince Charming? Some people believe less than others and only go along with it “because it is the way it is done”, but it is dangerous to obviously disagree with the status quo. Sophia is dreading the life proscribed for her by the story, but things take a turn for the worse and she is forced on the run…only to discover that the lies are even bigger than she thought. The violence encouraged by the patriarchal society is unflinching and she has good reason to fear for their futures! It is difficult to talk about my favourite things without spoilers, but I’ll just say I absolutely loved the way the role of the Fairy Godmother played out.

CINDERELLA IS DEAD is really clever in the way it really brings home to readers that accounts of events are written by the victors, and that doesn’t necessarily mean they were the ‘goodies’ and the losers were the ‘baddies’, by unpicking the history that society uses to impose rules.

I asked the author, Kalynn Bayron, a few questions!

You talk about the legacy of stories and how they shape who we become in your introductory letter for CINDERELLA IS DEAD. What books do you think made the biggest mark on you growing up? I love fairy tales. I had a big book of collected works when I was a kid that had older versions of Snow White, Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, etc. As a teenager, I discovered Toni Morrison and Zora Neale Hurston whose work has affected not only my writing but the entirety of my life. I read a lot of Anne Rice as a teenager, too, which is where my love of vampires comes from.

What prompted you to choose to rework the tale of Cinderella over any other fairy tale? Cinderella is a pretty popular tale, it’s highly visible. That’s Cinderella’s castle at Disneyworld, kids dress up as her for Halloween—she’s everywhere. I wanted to retell a story that was instantly recognizable and deconstruct it in a way that centered the kinds of people who are nowhere to be found in the story itself, mainly Black, queer people. So, I wrote this story that explores not only how fairy tales have the power to personally affect who we become, but also allows the reader to see this
fairy tale world through the eyes of a young woman who is actively harmed by the societal norms the fairy tale itself perpetuates. It’s a continuation of the Cinderella story and a kind of reworking of that already established framework that makes it accessible to people like me, while also being wrapped in this dangerous, magical, mystery.

Who was your favourite character to write? I love Sophia and I loved writing her, but Constance was also really fun to write. She’s funny, very smart, and she wears her heart right on her sleeve. She is willing to lay down her life for Sophia almost as soon as they meet, and I think that speaks to the kind of person she is. For her, it’s all or nothing. She’s very intense and I had a so much fun writing her.

The real world parallels of those in power rewriting history to maintain systems of oppression are significant & thought provoking – what would you like YA readers to take away from that? It’s important to ask questions and it’s okay to change your mind. The people in this fictional world and readers in the real world have an opportunity, every day, to do just that. Some people take advantage of the chance to learn and grow and change their behaviors, others do not. Sometimes it feels easier to do the thing that has always been done. Real change requires introspection and a willingness to admit that you were wrong or that something you once believed was wrong. That’s really hard for some people to do, but it’s the only way to start the hard work of unlearning and telling the entire truth when it comes to our history. It’s the only way forward.

With your debut publishing in such unusual times, have you had much of a chance to interact with teen readers or get any feedback? The good thing is that I get a chance to interact with teen readers on my social media all the time. I get emails and DMs from teens who are really looking forward to Cinderella Is Dead and it makes me incredibly happy! I’m writing for teens, so their support is very important to me and I take any opportunity I can to interact with them. So many lives have been lost to COVID-19 and the measures we, as individuals, are taking to keep ourselves and our communities safe continue to be important and necessary. I look forward to the day where I get to meet my teen readers face to face, but for now, keep the emails and messages coming! I really enjoy them!

Do you write to a soundtrack or prefer peace & quiet? I love writing to soundtracks. The Penny Dreadful soundtrack is perfect for creepy, atmospheric writing sessions. The music from The House with the Clock in its Walls is great, too! I also love musical theatre so Sweeney Todd, Hadestown, and Wicked OBC recordings are also great to write to. Video game soundtracks are also great to write to, especially if I’m in a headspace where lyrics are too much of a distraction. Assassin’s Creed 2 and Final Fantasy 7 are my go-to’s.

What are you reading at the moment and who would you recommend it to? I’m always reading a few different books at a time. Right now, it’s A Song Below Water by Bethany C. Morrow, which is a brilliant modern fantasy centering Black girls, one of whom is a Siren. If you love magical creatures in a modern setting, Black Girl Magic, and a powerful story about friendship and family, you’ll love this book. I’m also re-reading Rory Power’s Wilder Girls, and I’d recommend this book to anyone who loves a story that makes you simultaneously excited and terrified to turn the page. The creeping sense of dread she manages to infuse in her work is spellbinding.

The worst question I know, but I’m going to ask it anyway: what are you working on at the moment? I actually love this question! I’m working on lots of things that I can’t really talk about, so I have to get real creative in how I discuss them and it makes me have to think outside the box. I have a book coming out next year. It’s a modern YA fantasy that is equal parts The Secret Garden and Little Shop of Horrors with a sprinkle of Hadestown. I’m also finishing up a draft of a paranormal Middle Grade that is like an age-appropriate-Watchmen(TV) meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It has been so much fun to write!

Kalynn Bayron, the author of CINDERELLA IS DEAD

I’m very grateful to Bloomsbury for giving me the opportunity to ask Kalynn a few questions, and to Kalynn for taking the time to give such great answers

I read the book on NetGalley, but it is out in the UK on 6th August!